Sketchbook Walk-through

I am part of an art community on Facebook where we share what we are working on and encourage each other. Over the summer I ventured into sharing short walk-through videos of my completed sketchbooks with the group and received the feedback that others beyond our group would likely enjoy seeing the videos as well. I am posting this first video to see how it goes for me; there’s an order of magnitude difference in my head between posting to a private group and posting to YouTube in general. To that end, I am keeping my YouTube settings to “you need to have the link to see it”, which I think will help me ease into this aspect of being online. For those interested, the video can be found here. Apparently I would need to upgrade my WordPress package to embed it directly. Bummer.

In addition to posting the link to the video, I want to share a bit about my sketchbook experiences and processes. I’ve been keeping sketchbooks since I was ~ten, although I only have a few of the ones from that far back. My earliest books were solely for drawing and I filled them quickly and then moved on. There was no rhyme or reason to those early books—I was a kid who loved to draw, so I carried them with me and worked in them all of the time. Completely self-taught, I did a lot of character sketching in an illustrative style, characters from stories I was daydreaming in my head or that emerged from games I played with friends. When I got into roleplaying games in junior high, I started illustrating my characters and those of my friends as well as drawing things that other people liked to make some pocket money. I started cartooning around this time, heavily influenced by a few friends who were in love with anime and manga. It was at some point in junior high that I traded in my usual HB pencil for a dip quill and ink pen, which was a revelation. I would spend hours stippling and cross hatching as I found it both meditative and exact. I also fell in love with ball point pens at this stage. There’s so much you can do with a well broken-in ballpoint. Pens were ubiquitous and cheap, which made them desirable in a pre-internet rural Alberta town, two hours from the nearest art supply store.

My sketchbooks stayed largely illustrative until I entered the Fine Art program at Grant MacEwan in Edmonton. I was only able to be there a year due to mental health issues, yet that time had a profound impact on how I viewed and made art, as well as on how I kept a sketchbook. Illustration was not the point of the program, so that major part of my creative practice was put aside for a while. In its place emerged a kind of collect-all of concept drawings, colour schemes, notes from friends, notes taken in class, photos pulled in the darkroom that I wasn’t sure where else to store, quotes I found interesting, and pictures from magazines that I might want as references for future paintings. I still have that particular sketchbook, and it’s amazing how much of a turning point it is when compared to everything that came before it.

The eclectic, everything-in-one-place element has remained in my creative practice. For the last few years while I’ve been pursuing grad school, my sketchbooks have become my primary creative pursuit and have been evolving toward a more mixed media approach. I don’t intend for them to be pretty or polished. I intend for them to be full. I intend for them to be honest. The end result is somewhat chaotic and very reflective of who I am and what I’ve been thinking of lately. I do keep separate journals for when long-hand writing is the way I need to think and I tend to keep those private.

I am not loyal to a particular brand of sketchbook. I vary the size and format depending on where my head is at when I am shopping for the next book. I prefer thicker, smoother paper to thin or rough. I really like it when alcohol based markers don’t bleed through it, but that is rarely found. I don’t often go larger than an 8″x10″ book because I find the page gets overwhelming beyond that size and it’s not easy to cache in a bag and carry with. I used to work solely in coil ring books and I’m now working more often in flat bound books. I frequently draw or paint on whatever appropriate ground I need and then collage it into the book I am working in, which is why they all end up needing elastics or some other binding to keep them closed. They are a pain to store this way but I wouldn’t trade it. I use a lot of glue. So much glue. I’ve gotten really fond of the roller-style scrapbooking glue—not messy, easy to apply, archival, and I can buy refills, which is great for managing expense and environment.

I think I’d be a different person without these books. I had the experience this spring of looking through some books from the last two years while trying to find something, and it was really interesting. I remember creating some of those spreads and how frustrated I was with how they turned out or the materials I’d used. With some time, I find a lot of value there and maybe even some wisdom. Sometimes Past Me was really, really savvy. I have also learned a lot from the process of working in the books; I have a lot more patience and I’m more comfortable with using what I have on hand to make things in the moment rather than telling myself I’ll make something when I have the right supplies, time, etc., etc., all those excuses I’d make instead of making art. Letting it be done rather than perfect offers a lot of room for freedom.

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